Syria’s brutally suppressed uprising is no civil war (THE GLOBE AND MAIL) PAUL KORING WASHINGTON 04/12/12)
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Dire warnings that Kofi Annan’s United Nations-sponsored peace
mission is the “last chance” to avert full-blown civil war in Syria
may add urgency to so-far unheeded calls for a ceasefire, but they
also misrepresent the crisis.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal, ongoing attacks on his own
people, his shelling of cities and deployment of helicopter gunships
to wipe out resistance, may be horrific and unwarranted. But the
nation is hardly on the verge of civil war.
Syria is gripped in a brutally suppressed uprising. That suppression
may become even more brutal and bloody but – to date – the violence
is so one-sided and the opposition so disparate and disorganized,
that chances of civil war seem remote, or perhaps hopeless.
Civil wars, fought to topple existing regimes or secede from them,
need far more than widespread, occasionally violent, unrest of the
sort currently seizing Syria.
And several outcomes far removed from civil war of the Libyan kind
could end Syria’s internal violence. President al-Assad could be
ousted by his own military, as was Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, although
the domination of the President’s minority Alawite sect atop the army
and throughout elite security units makes that far less likely.
Still, Romania’s vicious dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was executed when
his own army balked at the mass murder of unarmed citizens in
Loose talk of sliding into civil war could also serve – perversely –
to actually delegitimize the Syrian pro-democracy movement. Armed
conflict to topple the internationally recognized government of a UN
member state remains unlawful, unless and until the al-Assad regime
is deemed illegitimate, as was that of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi
Syria’s grim toll of more than 9,000 killed in 13 months is horrific,
but a far cry from the casualty levels of a society of 22 million
people at war. In Bosnia’s civil war, more than 100,000 were killed
out of a population one-third the size of Syria’s and more than one
million others were displaced.
Nor do rising body counts make a civil war. Thirty years ago, Hafez
al-Assad, the current president’s far-more-brutal father, infamously
crushed a Muslim Brotherhood revolt in Hama. More than 30,000 were
killed in days.
Iraq’s Saddam Hussein similarly wiped out tens of thousands of Kurds
and Shia, ruthlessly vanquishing failed uprisings with a brutality
verging on genocide. Yet Iraq never neared civil war until after the
2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam.
Repression – no matter how wanton or bloody – only rarely tips into
civil war. Joseph Stalin killed 30 million but the Soviet Union
imploded, mostly peacefully, a half-century later.
For Syria’s violence to slide into civil war, the insurgency or
uprising needs support, territory and weapons. Currently none of
those exist, although they could emerge.
To wage war against the regime, the insurgents need some sort of
territorial base, perhaps in the north along the Turkish border, a
coalescing of opposition forces – even if it’s only a marriage of
convenience for the duration – and firepower. The latter could come
from outside suppliers – as happened in Libya despite the supposed
arms embargo on both sides – or from breakaway units of the Syrian
military, as also happened in Libya.
So far the armed uprising, which eclipsed peaceful demonstrations
months ago, is small, scattered and – whenever confronted by the
massed forces of the state – losing.
“Lack of sophisticated hardware, effective leadership and nation-wide
co-ordination, has meant that the FSA (Free Syrian Army) has had to
retreat in the face of overwhelming firepower,” Malik Al-Abdeh, a
British-based opponent of the al-Assad regime, wrote in a carefully
reasoned assessment of the military imbalance on the Syria In
“The FSA is not only incapable of holding ground, its repeated
attempts to do so risk losing it the support of the civilian
population,” he added. “Regime forces have little compunction about
shelling residential areas where the FSA are holed up, and it means
that more, rather than fewer, civilians die.”
Civil war may eventually engulf Syria, especially if Mr. al-Assad
fails to crush demonstrations and silence dissent or if outside
powers provide heavier weapons and create and protect an enclave from
Syrian military assault.
To date, internal armed opposition in Syria is far too limited, too
weak and bereft of the necessary to warrant hopes – or fears – of a
full-blown civil war. (© Copyright 2012 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc.
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